Review: Golf Story mixes story and sport in a way I didn't expect
Not a fan of golf, and yet I can't stop tee-ing up everywhere
Developer: Sidebar Games
Publisher: Sidebar Games
I had never played a Camelot developed Mario Golf game back in the day, but if someone had convinced me to give it a go, I'd have probably liked it, given how much I've enjoyed Golf Story. It's especially surprising since I've never considered golf as a sport all that interesting, and yet, Golf Story manages to keep me entertained with a focus on a humorous story, and an easy to grasp golfing mechanic that had me tee-ing up anywhere and everywhere.
Humor in everything
Sidebar Games has done a great job at keeping the game interesting with a barrage of humor, hitting you one line right after another. You play as an aspiring golfer who wants to go Pro but is surrounded by a slew of characters that doubt him, believe they're better than him, elitist disc-golfers, senior rappers, and so much more. A large part of the game's charm, aside from the fantastic golfing mechanics, comes from the interaction between your character and the many side characters you meet along the way.
Many of these characters will task you with various, often ridiculous requests. In the game's first map, you'll come across a worried mother whose kid insists on swimming in a lake riddled with alligators. At first, I wasn't sure what she expected me to do, only to eventually drop my golf ball, and hit the ball right on the kids head. For some reason, that knocked some sense into the kid and he got out of the water. This "aha" moment was all I needed to realize that golf is the answer to every problem in this game, and it's brilliant.
As soon as you start the game and walk into the first main park, you'll notice an odd button surrounded by a fence. With no way of getting inside, it's the game's genius clue in letting you know that you can drop the ball right then and there, and hit it inside the fence to press the button. At that instant, the game conveyed two things. First and foremost, you can literally tee-up anywhere and secondly, the game contains various puzzles, hidden items, and challenges that are solved by simply playing golf.
What's also great about this feature, is that you can also perform self-imposed challenges. If you spot a hole in the distance, say on an island that's in the middle of a lake. You can choose to tee-up anywhere and then see if you're able to get a hole-in-one. Doing so doesn't award you with anything, but it's satisfying to pull off.
RPG and Golf
Progression is tied to stats and money. For every event won and side-mission completed, you'll earn money, which you can then spend on various clubs that provide some beneficial improvements to your swings. You also earn XP points to gain levels, which then allow you to spend skill points across a few categories such as accuracy, degree control, and spin. There's also a power stat that you can spend points in, but each point in power will lower every other stat, meaning you're playing a balancing act between improving your general swings as well as the average drive distance. This means you can't simply pump points into power just to be able to hit a ball very far since you'd be decreasing every other subsequent stat in the process.
The star of the game, besides the humor, is the actual sport of golf. It's not overly complicated and once you play one round of golf, you'll get a pretty good grasp of its mechanics. To perform a swing, you'll have to press the A button three times; Once to initiate, once to stop it once the bar reaches full power, and once to stop it at the other end of the bar, signifying whether you've hit the ball in the center, or a little off to the side. At its most basic, knowing this core mechanic allows you to play the basic game. Up and down on the left stick will switch clubs, which affects how far the ball will travel, and left and right then alters the trajectory.
However, it goes slightly deeper than that. By pressing the X button, you'll enter Hit Point Mode, which will allow you to specify where on the golf ball you want to strike. For example, if you strike on the bottom of the ball, you'll have a more arced shot, whereas hitting the ball on the top will shoot the ball in a more straight line. The Y button, on the other hand, enters Precision Mode, which allows you to customize how far you want to hit the ball. Let's say that with the current club equipped, hitting it with full power would shoot the ball way past the hole, however, it's tough for you to determine the right amount of power so you don't overshoot it. Precision Mode lets you set how far you want the ball to go, and providing you with an extra icon on your power bar to let you know where exactly you need to stop.
Charming but flawed in one way
The presentation is top notch, combining a contemporary take on sprites with detailed moving animations and expressions. The added animation element added to speech bubbles add a surprisingly effective portrayal of emotion, whether it's someone yelling in anger, burst with excitement, or gasp in surprise. Coupled along with brilliantly subtle vibrations from the HD rumble in each Joy-con, it adds, even more, expression into the already brilliant conversations.
If there was one problem with the game's graphical style, it's the portrayal of slopes. The top right of the screen always indicates the slope of where the ball will land. This is portrayed by an arrow as well as a descriptor such as 'slight.' The problem is, it's not enough to really convey how much you need to compensate for that with your swing. There's been plenty of times where I was feet away from a hole but didn't make the putt because of a slope I didn't account correctly for, even though I was aware of it.
Lastly, man oh man, I apologize to whoever composed this game's soundtrack, but... it's pretty bad. It's got a few charming songs, and the overall tone is appropriately goofy, but the overuse of those midi trumpets just sound completely off, even in a silly game like this.
At $15, Golf Story almost feels criminally underpriced, given the amount of game that's available. You can easily get over 10 hours of game time for the main story, and almost double that if you keep playing to beat every single side mission, completing every task, and finding every hidden challenge or item. The game provides some great side-activities that don't always consist of golf, such as trying to unearth fossils underneath a prehistoric golf course. These were always welcome and lasted only a short while before jumping right back into golf-centric challenges.
It's easy to understand, and not-so-difficult to master golf mechanics ensure that even players who don't particularly enjoy golf, like myself, will still find it enjoyable in this game. If anything, it's constant barrage of humor will make sure you're at least grinning most of the time while playing. This is an easy recommendation to make for any Switch owner, despite being a fan of golf or not.